Cornell fraternity Zeta Beta Tau made headlines recently when it was placed on probation for hosting a competition where members earned points for sleeping with the woman who weighed the most. The fraternity’s “pig roast,” while appalling, is not a new phenomenon.
I first read about “hogging” in 2004 in an article in the Cleveland Scene. “Hogging,” it explained, is the practice in which some men – usually those in fraternities or the military – attempt to “pick up” women they deem fat for sport (to win a bet) or for sexual pleasure. The implication is that women of size are hogs. Moreover, the women who are the targets of this malicious game are unaware that they are being used or tricked.
After learning about hogging, a colleague and I conducted a study on the practice, which was published in 2006 in Deviant Behavior. We collected information that we found online about hogging, in addition to interviewing heterosexual college men about their sexual relationships. None of our interviewees admitted to hogging, yet all but two knew what hogging was without us ever using the term. We asked them whether they had ever heard of a practice where men try to “pick up” women they deem fat or unattractive as part of a bet or for sex, and they responded, “Yeah, hogging.” Disturbingly, they all thought it was funny.
Our hogging study revealed that many of the men thought that women of size do not regularly have sex or receive much sexual attention from men and are therefore “desperate” or sexually “easy.”
However, my subsequent research with 74 North American women of size revealed that they have no trouble finding sexual partners. In addition, numerous women revealed that their partners were not “using” them or with them because they thought they were “easy,” but instead were genuinely attracted to them and cared for them. Some women reported harassment and mistreatment and revealed stories that involved instances of sexual assault akin to hogging, but for the majority of women I interviewed, that was not the norm.
The increasingly intense focus from the media, popular culture, government and the medical community about the harms of being fat – along with recommendations to combat the obesity epidemic – typically imply that fat persons are responsible for their body size. Fat is considered not only a choice, but a moral failure, as well as a drain on society’s resources due to purported increased health care costs and lost productivity.
Given public sentiments about fat, research has shown that fat hatred among the public has increased and persons of size, especially women, tend to find themselves the target of public ridicule and bullying. Additionally, discrimination against persons of size has increased in occupational, educational and medical health care contexts that are essential to living well in contemporary society. Large women tend to be disproportionately impacted, likely because women are more frequently judged for their appearance and held to narrower standards of beauty.
Women of size are routinely chastised, condemned and denigrated for their “fatness.” Compounding the problem is that “fatness” is a qualitative category whose parameters are established according to structural norms and reinforced by supposedly sound medical science. Granted, eating unhealthfully increases one’s risks of disease and other ailments, and there are cases where people of size — not to mention plenty of people of “normal” people — eat unhealthfully for a variety of reasons. Yet, the societal attitude toward people of size has become increasingly hostile, aggressive in its message, psychologically crippling for “fat” women and thoroughly unwarranted. The children’s playground tease has become an unjust social institution within adult society.
Given that anti-fat sentiments are on the rise, it would behoove universities and colleges to educate their students and student organizations about the harms of weight discrimination and to include body size – like gender identity and expression, sexual orientation and disability status – as a protected status in their anti-harassment policies.
Dr. Jeannine A. Gailey is an associate professor of sociology at Texas Christian University and author of the book The Hyper(in)Visible Fat Woman. She is also an affiliate faculty member in the Women and Gender Studies program at TCU.